For the next 10 weeks, I will be serialising my book, ‘The Cost of Our Lives – Pandemic Edition‘, and sharing a chapter with you every week. The Cost Of Our Lives highlights the story of how Ibidun was taken from Ajegunle to London by her mother’s friend. This novella details Ibidun’s London adventure of friendship, betrayal, freedom, and how she was able to return to Nigeria to begin a career as a celebrity fashion stylist.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you missed the previous chapters, read them here.
Uche and I started dating shortly after I moved back to Lagos. We became social media friends after he started following me on Twitter and Instagram. Back then, I still used to put up silly pictures and naughty posts online. He had just come out of a relationship that lasted five years and he was heartbroken. His girlfriend had dumped him because she felt he was choking her with too much attention and she needed some ‘breathing space’. He later told me that the last incident was actually the fourth time she had tried to dump him for the same reason. He finally decided to oblige her.
On that fateful day, I posted a picture of myself on Instagram showing some cleavage and wrote, “If you want to get naughty, don’t go fronting, meet me at location X.”
He was the first to reply, “Where?”
I got so many other responses from both men and women and I had a field day laughing at their messages but Uche’s pictures had already captured my attention. Halfway through his pictures, my heart was already beating faster because he was the perfect description of clean, tall, dark and handsome. In one of the pictures, my favourite, he stood backing the water on a beautiful beach. The blue sea was the same as the colour of his eyes. I zoomed in and out as if doing that would bring him out of my phone and place him right in front of me. I fantasised about this stranger for about ten minutes before I replied to him.
“You tell me,” I typed.
Before I knew it, he was commenting on all my other Instagram pictures and he immediately seemed like someone I could be friends with. I noticed he was already following me on Twitter as well but I decided to play hard to get so I didn’t follow back immediately. I wanted to deprive him of the luxury of sending me direct messages. I wanted him to flirt with me openly if he could, and yes, he did so for about a week. Occasionally, after a tweet or comment, he would write, “My princess, please follow back.”
Following Uche on Twitter was the beginning of a match made in heaven and delivered on social media. I remember my first direct message to him, “Dear blue eyes, is that really you on your avatar or did you put up a dazzling model’s picture?”
“Phone number, please,” he responded as though he had been waiting to ask since forever. I didn’t hesitate. I believe a girl shouldn’t hesitate whenever she meets a guy she clearly likes, whether on social media or in real life. Call it being cheap or whatever you like, I couldn’t be bothered. At 28, I wouldn’t be caught fronting for a smashing guy only to end up regretting when he stops giving me attention and moves on. If I had been ten years younger, I probably would have hesitated, but not now.
Uche and I decided that a physical meeting was in order after talking on the phone and chatting on Whatsapp for a few weeks. When he first told me to meet him one evening at Regale Hotel in Victoria Island, I was quite taken aback, even though I knew what we both wanted. I felt he was sending the wrong signal too soon but he calmed my nerves when he said we would meet at the poolside where the live band would be playing.
He had told me what he would be wearing – a navy blue blazer and cream coloured khakis with black patent shoes. I deliberately arrived about ten minutes late just to keep him waiting. On arrival, I met a guy at the poolside, dressed exactly the way Uche had described but the person was not the same person I had seen online. Although he looked dapper and gorgeous, he was extremely different from the person I had been fantasising about. I noticed the guy’s eyes taking in my appearance from head to toe. I didn’t want to look as if I was trying too hard with my dressing, so I had kept it simple with a little black dress and silver strappy sandals but my Kuku’s human hair spoke volumes that only a man with taste would understand. If only he could tell simply by looking at the hair that I still owed Kuku one hundred and fifty thousand naira for it.
“Hello princess,” he said and I stood still for a bit.
“Hi Mr. Blue eyes,” I finally managed to say, realising it was Uche after all. He actually had blue eyes but the pictures I had seen online clearly weren’t his. I was blown away from the very second I set eyes on him.
He later explained to me that he preferred using pictures of a particular male model because he didn’t want people to see him in person and be able to recognise him. He also mentioned that he had gone through my pictures and recognised my best friend because she was friends with his ex-girlfriend. That didn’t bother me at all, after all his ex and I weren’t friends.
Uche and I became inseparable after that day and our relationship was about eight months old as at the time of my cyber-bullying experience.
I had met Uche’s ex-girlfriend, Nkechi, a few times through my best friend, Ibidun small. She and Nkechi were childhood friends and had managed to stay in touch over the years. We all hung out once at their friend’s hen night and we had also seen each other a couple of times after that. I didn’t have her phone number or any of her contact details because we weren’t really friends, even though we had a mutual friend.
Nkechi first found out about my relationship with Uche from my cover interview for A-lister magazine. Their editors had decided to use a few pictures of Uche and I in a part of the interview where I spoke about my love life. I opened up about my story in the magazine, I was very honest about my past because I saw it as a good platform to finally clear up whatever doubts still lingered about the legitimacy of my hustle and it was definitely an interesting read. The interview generated about 500 comments on the magazine’s website the first day it was posted online. People were so inspired and motivated after they read my story and I was really happy to read all the positive feedback. I was definitely winning but then I realised Ibidun small hadn’t called me. It felt strange because we had gone through the interview questions together, she even followed me to the cover shoot and had seemed excited that I was getting recognised for my work especially after the negative blog attacks I had just survived. That night, I stayed over at Uche’s flat. I actually slept with the phone in my hand because I was going to call my bestie before I fell asleep.
Early the next day, Ibidun called me at about 6am.
“Na wa o,” she began. I could sense a negative vibe in her voice but I didn’t want to insinuate anything until she said, “This one that you’re publicising your relationship with this Uche guy, don’t you think it’s a bit too early for that, and besides, aren’t you bothered about what people will say if he doesn’t end up marrying you?”
I was quiet for a while because although I had half expected her concern, as I heard her voice in my sleepiness, I really wasn’t sure if she was truly concerned and I also didn’t know how best to respond.
She didn’t wait for my response before she dropped the bombshell on me. “Anyway, just be very careful. The guy has nothing to offer you because he’s still very much in love with Nkechi. He is simply using you as a rebound.”
Hearing the words made me freeze. I got out of bed and stood lost in thoughts, speechless, until I heard her calling my name on the other end of the line, “Ibidun, are you there?”
I tried to shake it off and responded, “Oh yes, dear, I was just trying to pick up my books that fell off the bed.” At this point, I realised that Uche’s ex-girlfriend Nkechi must have been telling my best friend some negative things just to put a sour taste in my sweet relationship. I was still on the phone trying to make sense of it all when Ibidun made the final statement that broke the Camel’s back.
“But babes, how in your right senses would you think a social media relationship would work? Besides, you’re even dating your friend’s ex, don’t you have a conscience?”
I had tried my best to stay calm the whole time because I didn’t want to lose a friend over ‘boyfriend matter’ but that statement made me flip. I was like a bull that had just seen red. I was disappointed in my friend to say the very least and I needed to give her a piece of my mind. I cleared my throat.
“Shut it right there, Ibidun! When did Nkechi and I become friends? Why is it now so convenient for her to say I’m her friend? Has she ever called me? Does she know where I live? Does she even know my surname, talk less of where I live? So because I’m now dating her ex-boyfriend, we have suddenly become buddies right? You girls are just a bunch of low lives. Who even told you I’m thinking about marriage right now? You think I’m as desperate as all of you that consider getting married your ultimate goal in life? Let me just tell you something right now, Ibidun, I’m enjoying myself and living my life to the fullest. Uche and I care about each other and that’s all that matters. We aren’t putting ourselves under pressure by talking about marriage or babies, so get that into your thick skull. And as for your pathetic friend, tell her she dumped a good man and he has moved on with his life. She should deal with it and get over him because he is all mine now.”
I didn’t even realise I had been shouting until Uche came out of the bathroom and said, “Baby, what’s the matter? Are you okay? Isn’t it too early to be arguing? Who are you talking to?” I looked at the phone and realised that Ibidun had already hung up, probably after she heard Uche’s voice. I was disappointed in myself for allowing her get to me like that, for letting someone I called my best friend ruin my joy. I was still basking in the euphoria of being on the cover of a magazine and someone had decided to ruin it for me with talk of an ex who apparently wasn’t over a man she dumped. I had barely even finished saying my morning prayers when she called me. I had allowed them to get to me; something I had promised myself would never ever happen again.
Uche was still trying to find out what happened. He seemed really worried and genuinely concerned but I wasn’t ready to talk. I just wanted to leave. I needed space. I needed a change of environment. I wanted to be on my own. As I packed my things, I told Uche I needed some time to myself because I didn’t even have enough energy to go over the whole story and besides, I actually felt very stupid with myself for all that had happened. I knew I wasn’t being fair to him considering all he had been through for my sake and the fact that this wasn’t his fault in any way, yet I left there immediately and told him I would see him later.
I drove straight to my favourite hoteI, Vanson Glam Courts, in Victoria Island and checked into room 112. I felt at peace as I sank into the bed. The quietness of the hotel room made me feel that inner peace I so badly craved. While reflecting on the entire situation, I felt a sharp pain in my left eye so I decided to shut my eyes for a little while. I felt better as I shut them and tried to massage the outer part of my eyes with my fingers. It was both soothing and relaxing and I didn’t even realise I had fallen asleep until I woke up the next morning.
In my subconscious, I thought I repeatedly heard someone say “room service” but I knew I was fast asleep and felt it could only be a dream. I wondered why the hotel attendant would disturb a sleeping guest who did not make a request for room service. I was already telling myself that I would give the attendant a piece of my mind and it was definitely going to be one he would remember for a long time. As I opened my eyes, prepared to lash out at the unfortunate gentleman, I saw the handsome figure of my man, down on one knee by my bedside. I didn’t think he would be able to figure out where I would be so easily, let alone find his way to my room. I guess I must have made a big fuss several times about how much I love Vanson Glam and the facilities in the hotel. Uche’s hands were behind him so I knew he had a surprise for me. I reminded myself of what usually happened whenever a man went down on one knee for his girlfriend and in my excitement, my heart began a race against itself. A million and one thoughts raced through my head.
Was this the special moment? Was he about to pop the question? Was he about to ask me to be his wife? Would he give a long speech before proposing? Did my breath smell funny? Would my mouth taste fresh enough for a post-proposal kiss? Would he finally tell me he loved me? What would my response be? Would I scream “yes!” or should I calmly say “yes”?
More thoughts went through my head as I began to adjust my facial expression to fit the question Uche was about to ask me. I also began to rehearse a short speech about how I had been waiting for this day in my head.
As Uche slowly brought his hands forward from behind him, I felt as though I was going to have a heart attack because my heart began to wander uncontrollably. When he finally stretched his hands out, I realised he had bought me a bouquet of white roses. How thoughtful of him.
He presented me with the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen and a little note that said, ‘After every storm comes a certain calmness. Even during the storm, I’ll always be by your side because I care so much about you, my baby. I love you Ibidun. Your prince.’
I suddenly realised I had fallen neck deep in love with this man. I had become so comfortable with Uche and felt so safe around him. It was surprising, considering all I had been through as a child and what I had held against men. It was the reason I had refused to be intimate with Uche despite how close we had become. I had a mischievous smile plastered across my face. I was actually slightly disappointed that he wasn’t holding a ring but then I thought to myself, wasn’t it too early to be thinking of a proposal? I laughed out loudly to his hearing with the note still in my hands.
“What’s so funny,” he asked softly.
I laughed again and said, “I’m laughing because you’re the only one that can make me laugh like this, thanks for everything, honey.”
We went for breakfast together at the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. Uche spent the whole day with me and we had a good time talking and laughing about almost everything until he received an urgent phone call from work and had to leave.
I spent two more nights alone at the hotel and I had a wonderful time. I wasn’t worried about my hotel bill because I had worked hard for my money and I definitely deserved to pamper myself once in a while. The next day, I gave myself a treat at the spa with a full body scrub and a Mexican massage afterwards. While I was at the spa, I couldn’t help thinking about how far I had come in such a short space of time. I had become the go-to fashion stylist for several Nigerian celebrities, a public relations guru and now I was actually working towards collaborating with a top international designer to have my own diffusion line. I had already created a few designs but I hadn’t come up with a brand name for my line yet. It was a good feeling. I was so pleased with myself. I knew I was in a good place, exactly where I was meant to be at that point in time.
I decided to check my email because I had not done so since I arrived at the hotel and I didn’t want to miss out on any important mails that might require my attention or response. My email was expectedly flooded with transaction alerts of all the payments and cash withdrawals I had made in the last few days. I scrolled downwards and I was glad to see an email from Zainab. It had been a long time since I heard from her and it was only her second mail to me since my return to Nigeria. But as I read her mail, my excitement vanished. She wrote that she had read in the newspapers in London that Aunty Maria had been arrested for child trafficking along with a few other child traffickers caught in the UK. The story was that she had gone to Nigeria to adopt two children from two different orphanages under false pretence that she was resident in Nigeria with a man posing as her husband but she was arrested after the police in London alleged that she actually sold one of the children to a Tanzanian woman in Glasgow while she made the other child work for her as both a maid at home and a cleaner at several hotels in London. The story sounded all too familiar, nostalgic in fact.
In that moment of wistfulness, I couldn’t help thinking about my childhood days. Inasmuch as I had constantly tried to forget about those dark growing up years, Zainab’s mail suddenly brought those memories all rushing back.
Join me next week for the next chapter of The Cost Of Our Lives.